Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Biosystems Engineering

Major Professor

John R. Buchanan

Committee Members

John S. Tyner, Jaehoon Lee


The objective of this study was to investigate the need for domestic wastewater to receive secondary treatment when being applied to the soil by subsurface drip irrigation (SDI). SDI uniformly distributes wastewater into the soil, which optimizes the soil’s chemical, physical, and biological capacity to remove waste constituents. Because of these advantages, many regulatory jurisdictions are allowing SDI at sites that previously were prohibited from using conventional trench-based soil application systems because of shallow soil restrictions. However, most of these regulatory agencies also require that the wastewater receives secondary treatment (dissolved organic carbon reduction) before the SDI system. At issue is whether the enhanced soil-based renovation provided by SDI should eliminate the necessity for secondary treatment before SDI.

Two SDI systems were installed and monitored at two sites in Tennessee. These locations were residential developments served by a septic tank effluent pump (STEP) collection system, a recirculating media filter (fine gravel media), and SDI dispersal. At both locations, SDI plots were established to receive primary treated (septic tank effluent) and secondary treated (recirculating media filter effluent) wastewater. In close proximity to randomly selected SDI emitters, soil samples were extracted. Soil cores were analyzed to determine saturated hydraulic conductivity (Ksat), and pore water samples were analyzed for nitrate, total nitrogen, total carbon, and total phosphorus. Results indicate that the primary-treated sites had lower Ksat values, higher nitrate and higher total nitrogen levels than the secondary-treated side and the background soil. Interestingly, the primary treated side had less total carbon and the background phosphorus concentration was twice that of the primary and secondary treated sides. Primary effluent showed a decrease in concentration for all constituents with increased depth. Secondary treatment does result in a higher quality effluent but is not needed when applying effluent with a SDIS.

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